Down and Out (book review)

26 02 2008

This is a Science Fiction Book Challenge review.

In an effort to move the front post along to something less depressing (at least for myself), I’ve procrastinated on my other work to bring you my review of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow, was a really weird, wonderful book with some amazing concepts. Doctorow threw away the economic system of money and replaced it with the ‘Whuffie,’ which is a constantly updated rating measuring the esteem and respect other people have for you. Furthermore, the technology has been developed to rejuvenate or completely remake the body, so people essentially don’t die. Many get bored and put themselves in suspended animation—but the book is about people who don’t do that. It’s about what happens to people and their relationships while attempting to gain great Whuffie wealth by running ‘adhocracies,’ what amount to anarchist cells, to control portions of Walt Disney World.

The action in the book centers specifically around Julius and his girlfriend Lil and their struggle against an older, more experienced generation who is moving in to take over the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square—which Lil’s parents fought to gain control of years before. For some reason, more ambition than love for Lil, Julius gets very deeply involved in the struggle and ends up making some incredibly bad decisions. It gets especially complicated, because Julius’ best friend Dan shows back up and has decided that instead of rejuvenating himself, he would like to end his life—something that no one does, because they can put themselves in suspended animation. It’s really exciting and deep.

There’s more though. Throughout the book, we get to see pieces of Julius’ past, and he slowly reveals his tendency to get involved with incredibly idiosyncratic women. To me, the book is equally if not more about his relationships with women. There is Lil, the 23 year old daughter of Magic Kingdom legends; there is Zoya, a transhuman (augmented with animal qualities) who Julius married years before; and at the end of the book there is another character who becomes a bigger part of his life.

I do believe the book needed at least twenty more pages to fully explore the relationships that Julius. The plot and emotions don’t need to be fully wrapped up, but I didn’t find the denouement very believable.

That said, I highly recommend Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. It was Cory’s first novel, it won a Nebula, and it was released for free under the Creative Common’s license. It’s short enough that it’s not too painful to read on your computer screen.

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